Final two WWII squad members share solemn toast to fallen comrades
BRADENTON (FOX 13) - They had their first reunion in Chicago in 1946. Now, more than 70 reunions later, two veterans of the 451st Bomber Squadron met again -- this time at an Applebee's in Bradenton, Florida.
The squadron started in 1942, training at what was then MacDill Field in Tampa. Later, they flew their B-26 Marauders to Europe to fight the Nazis.
The men of the 451st became more of a brotherhood than a squadron.
"You live together 24-7, you die together, you work together. There's no room for someone who doesn't want to be close," explained 93-year-old Sanford "Sandy" Graves.
He believed their friendships would last forever, but the young flyers who helped win the war have now been lost to time, except for two.
"We're down to that point now: two people standing. Marshall and me," Graves said.
He and 95-year-old Marshall Clark were fellow pilots in the 451st, and at this meeting, they were about to take care of some unfinished squadron business.
The business was in a box, signed by many of their comrades around 1969. Names were crossed off as they passed away. By military tradition, there was a bottle of Cognac inside.
"And the last two people alive drink it, and that's where we are now," Graves said. "We're going to open it today and make a toast out of it."
It took some doing to cut open the box that was sealed nearly 50 years ago, but they did it. Then they poured shots for family members and other customers in the restaurant.
Graves and Clark raised a toast. Then Graves read the names of more than a hundred men from the 451st who were killed in combat.
"It's just something we don't want people to ever forget," he offered.
As a final gesture, the last men standing paid tribute to those who fell before the many reunions that kept the squadron together.
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